Friday, May 16, 2008

Realization Of A Goal: Malta Is My 100th Country

Written from Valletta, Malta--

I celebrated reaching my 100th country or dependency today by hosting a luncheon for my tablemates from the cruise ship Prinsendam. Also guests were the sister and niece of my friend, Anton Calleia, who grew up on Malta and left for the U.S., and an eventual career as Los Angeles' chief budget officer. His sister, Ellen, and niece, Janet, remain on Malta, as does his 97-year-old mother. We dined and drank a very good Italian wine, Gazi, at Rubino's restaurant in downtown Valletta.

All those who are acquainted with me know I'm an inveterate traveler -- be it still hitchhiking around Los Angeles on occasion, to a 2005, 11,000-mile drive to Alaska and Canada's Northwest Territory, 20 automobile trips across the U.S., or nine trips to India, five to Italy, a voyage to Antarctica, and various visits to every continent. About 25 countries were in connection with L.A. Times assignments, mainly on the Olympics, but also several volcanoes in the Phillippines and the Caribbean.

Travel, as has been observed, is more a function of willpower than financial resources. When I was 20 years old, while studying a year in Paris, I hitchiked around Europe with a friend on spring vacation on the princely sum of $5 a day for two, and once hitchiked as well most of the way from Lima over the Andes, to Cuzco, Peru. I thought nothing of taking just $100 with me on a trip to the Canadian Rockies in 1967.

In 1968, while covering the presidential campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy, I kept track of how much I spent on hotels. The most expensive in the six months with him was the St. Regis in New York, $34 for the night, and the least expensive was in Bismarck, N.D., $4. I used to stay in the Manger-Hay Adams in Washington, D.C. for $16 a night. Those were the days, and one of my proudest moments was when Mark Murphy, Metro editor of the Times, remarked that he could send me to Europe for what it would cost to send another reporter to Fresno.

Years later, when I had children, I often took them on long trips, a month in Australia, to the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, to the World Olympic Congress at Baden-Baden, West Germany, to India and the Normandy beaches. Both my son and daughter now travel a lot on their own, and both have been to 30 countries or more. Even my little granddaughter, four and a half, has been to 12 states and Canada and Mexico.

With so much traveling, I've found myself in some interesting spots when major events occurred. I was in Birmingham, Ala., on Sept. 15, 1963, the day of the church bombing by Klansmen that killed four little black girls. On the terrible day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I heard the news while standing on the steps of Widener Library at Harvard University. I was in Athens, Greece, the day President Johnson expanded the war in Vietnam, on Feb. 7, 1965, in Wilmington, N.C., on the day of the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, and in Lausanne, Switzerland the day President Jimmy Carter tried and failed to rescue the American hostages in Iran. But I was close to home, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel with Sen. McCarthy, the horrible night that Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Of course, these days, unable to walk very well, I go on more expensive trips. The present one, around Africa, took me to 15 new dependencies and countries: the Turks and Caicos Islands, Madeira, Senegal, The Gambia, Ghana, Togo, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Reunion, Mauritius, the Seychelles islands, Egypt. Malta and, tomorrow, Tunisia. The cruise will end next week in Spain and Portugal. One of the best things about a cruise at my age is that you don't have to pack and unpack at every stop, but seeing the world from a cruise ship is not as good as renting a car and driving through a foreign land.

The first time I went to Spain, in 1958, Franco was still in power, and the police wore three-cornered Napoleon-style hats. Sometimes, such as with my daughter on the West Bank and in Kashmir, I wandered into areas which were pretty tense. It freaked out my kids when I went to the Middle East a few months after 9-11.

I have a long memory, and while I cannot tell you day to day about each trip, I remember most details of the lion's share of trips and still have a memory of my first, with my parents, to Palm Springs at the age of 2, and I have a pungent memory of a cross-country trip by rail my sister and I took with our mother in wartime 1942.

Obviously, I have some favorite places:

In California, Yosemite National Park, Lassen Peak, San Francisco, Big Sur and the Redwood Highway.

In the U.S., Ashland, Ore., Monument Valley, Ouray, Colo., the Beartooth Pass leading into Yellowstone, the Lemhi Pass, where Lewis and Clark crossed the Continental Divide, Homer, Alaska, Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, New Orleans, Tampa's Old Spanish section, Greenville, Miss., Sanibel Island, Fla., Mobile, Ala., Washington, D.C., Harpers Ferry, Concord, Mass, and, I hate to admit it, New York City and Boston. I attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., but found it too cold. Now, as class secretary of my Dartmouth class, I enjoy going to Hanover every fall.

In Canada, Vancouver, Victoria, Jasper, Lake Louise, the Stikine River, Yellowknife, Montreal and Quebec City.

In Latin America, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, the Amazon part of Brazil, Argentina and Chile. I've never been to Rio, or to Panama or Costa Rica, and have only stopped briefly in Ecuador.

In Europe, Norway, Denmark, Austria, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey (the part of Istanbul on the European side of the Bosporus). Moscow was pretty grim when I went there in 1980.

In Asia, Japan, China, Singapore, India (especially Kashmir, Bombay and the Kerala state), Israel, and, I hate to admit, Dubai.

In Africa, Morocco, South Africa and Egypt.

100 countries and dependencies. But that's not really anywhere close to the travels of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the onetime president of the International Olympic Committee. He traveled to 256 governmental entities on Olympic business.

Will I match Samaranch? No.

My favorite trips of all? It would have to be hiking in Yosemite with my father, just home from the war, in 1947 when I was nine years old, and my 1983 trip with my daughter to India when she was 11, where we saw my dear friends, Abraham S. Abraham and his wife, Amrita, in Bombay. In Yosemite, we climbed the old ledge trail, no longer in existence, from the Valley to Glacier Point, to the top of Yosemite Falls and quite a few others. But, being scared of heights, I never climbed Half Dome. That was left to my father and my grandfather, Harris A. Reich, who went to Yosemite regularly for 6o years, and my son, who climbed it much later.

It was more hiking than traveling, but while he was growing up, my son and I hiked about 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and greatly enjoyed the campouts and day-hikes in the San Jacinto, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Sierra and Cascade ranges.



Blogger Surfsister said...

Congratulations!!! Do you think you'll try to make it 150 eventually? God speed!

5/16/2008 7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dad, I think that one of the greatest gifts you ever gave to me and my brother was your love of travel. Through you, our eyes were opened to a wider world. I hope that I make it to 100 countries too!

5/17/2008 5:45 PM  

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